Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gone With the Wind

The jailhouse, that I've so enjoyed having in my yard all summer, fell over this week and broke in two.

"Fell." It was a windy day, but not all that windy. We had a hurricane and two nor'easters this summer, and it stood through all that.

I have my suspicions. Not that it makes any difference. Either way, it's just one more thing to make me sad. It's not just a crazy-looking, eccentric thing. It has memories attached to it.

I thought it very possible that the larger piece would stand, and that I would be able to wedge the smaller piece under for support. With much effort (I was hyperventilating for twenty minutes afterward. . . that thing is danged heavy!) I made this happen. But within a couple of hours it had fallen over again, causing more damage.

Can it be repaired? I think so. Can it be repaired by me? That's a good question.

For now, with the snow flying soon, all I can do is haul it up into the garage for the winter. But even that is not the kind of job that's going to be done in ten or fifteen minutes. With no time off from work, I've no choice but to let it lie where it is, all battered up and looking a bit like an odd sort of boat. It breaks my heart, just a little bit, every time I look at it.

It's not the first time this week I've had to ask the question, "How can anybody be so mean?"

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jeepers Creepers

The bug that put me into bed for five days and is still working its will on me more than a two weeks along also affected my emotions and robbed me of the ability to do anything more productive than play computer games and watch movies.

Monday night at eight I still had no idea that Pooky was dying. I sat down to watch Horror of Dracula on TCM, my first time.

I have a problem with Hammer in that they're too gory for me, and the studio has a lot to answer for in their part in establishing that trend. That said, being just the first in the line, Horror of Dracula wasn't nearly as gory as I expected it to be, although it still has some shocks that pack a whallop. (Fortunately, I had my thumb poised over the MUTE button on my remote at all times, and was spared the shrieks of the dying female vampires! Silencing movies like this helps take some of the bite out of them.)

And that's just it, really. Even the mildest Hammer chillers (1963's Kiss of the Vampire is one of  their best) don't really impress me as being horror movies at all. They have no interest in establishing mood, sending a shiver down your spine, or thrilling their audiences with the chilling mystery of what lies around that next dark corner. They are shock thrillers, pure and simple, designed to deliver swift jolts and to outrage the sensibilities. By definition, as audiences grew familiar with their tricks, the jolts and shocks had to go further and further and become more and more outrageous in order to have any effect.

Horror is about the mind and the emotions; shock is just about making you jump and cringe. This is why Horror of Dracula is where I get off the Hammer bandwagon.

The plot takes some intriguing liberties with Stoker. Jonathan Harker is changed from a real estate agent into a somewhat inept vampire hunter (before he's changed into a vampire), and the entire underlying theme of the novel (that the Carpathians are drying up for Drac and his need to relocate will bring pestilence and plague to England) is scrapped. It's not clear to me where Dracula's castle is located in this film, but it seems to be only a short carriage-ride away from the Harkers, and Drac's motive is reduced to revenge for the death of his vampire bride.

In this version, Drac burns away nicely into ashes and dust. It's the movie's best scene, and the director wisely opts for a fast fade-out.

I'm astonished at how little Cristopher Lee has to do in this movie, and how little he brings to the part. Really, he gets one early shock scene (the effect of which is somewhat reduced because it's become the most widely-reproduced still from the movie) and the climactic bit of snarling before Peter Cushing lets the sun shine in. OK, he's tall; but in no way do I see this as an iconic Dracula. Even Jack Palance was better in the made-for-TV Dan Curtis version.

If Hammer's Count continued to be this much of a cypher in the rest of the films they named after him, then no wonder Lee disliked playing the part!

Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers is so much better!

On a side note, I vote that the SyFy network change it's name to the Torture Porn network. But then, all the cable stations seem to be running horrible stuff around Halloween this year. Only TCM is keeping it both tame and in the proper spirit. Everywhere else it's slashers and flesh-eating zombies and worse. Since when does American Movie Classics run disgusting crap like Jeepers Creepers 3? I'm having a hard enough time getting my enthusiasm for Halloween back this year (being sick is part of the problem) without having to zoom through the stations every night trying to avoid the degrading trash that typifies the modern Horror film.

-- Freder.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One More Goodbye

As poorly as she looks in this picture, she looked so much worse during the last few months.

I buried Pooky this morning, in a nice spot in the back garden.

Pooky, nee Spooky, makes me feel like a hypocrite. She was such a pain in the neck for -- at least -- the last two years of her life, and especially since moving into the new house. . . it was like living with a force of nature.

But I didn't want her to die. Even when I threw her out of the house a couple of weeks ago, it was because the alternative was to take her to the vet and have her put down. I couldn't stand the thought. I've had enough of death. It's breaking me into tiny little pieces.

I have to wonder if the couple of days she spent outdoors contributed to her death this morning. I don't know. She seemed as healthy as ever (I mean, as healthy as SHE could be) when I found her and brought her back in. Better, really. She was cleaner and cuter than she had been in a while. She still ate as well as ever, still shrieked at me for her food as loud as ever.

But two days ago her shrieking began to sound muted. On Sunday it turned into more of a constant whine than the usual shouting at me, nagging me for faster Food Service. She sat in the middle of the kitchen floor a little more hunched than normal, and said, "Wah. Wah. Wah.".

Then, just yesterday night, when I set her food down, she went and took a couple of licks off the top, turned away from the plate, looked up at me and started whining as if I had not fed her anything she could eat.

Around 9:30, when I had finished the evening's first feature on TCM and got up to do the dishes, Pooky climbed into my easy chair and nestled down in the newspaper. I went up and took a shower. When I came down again the second feature was just underway and I got engrossed enough in it that I wanted to sit down and watch. I moved her (and Patches and Honey) out of the chair and watched Vincent Price doing his silly old thing for another hour.

It was ten o'clock when it ended. I found Pooky crouched in the cat box, hunched, snot running out of her nose, looking more pathetic than I'd ever seen her. I moved her back into the chair -- she weighed almost nothing -- and although I did get engrossed in the third feature, I stood behind the chair instead of moving her out of it.

At six AM I woke and could not find her anywhere -- until I stepped out onto the porch and at the same time stepped on Pooky, lying there on the thick rug, flat on her side, wearing the expression that all animals wear when they can see death coming for them.

I got down on my hands and knees. My left hand landed in a puddle of her shit, except that it wasn't like excrement anymore -- it was black and thick as tar.

I got a towel and covered her over from the neck down. I sat down in the doorway and stroked her head and talked to her for some time.

The thing is, life will be so much easier without her. Ninety-five percent of all the laundry that I had to do, I had to do because of her. I was forever on my hands and knees cleaning the floor because of her. Her nagging screams for food every morning and night drove me crazy. There is a part of me that's happy that it's over at last, for her and for me.

But she was closer to me than any human member of the family that I have left. We went through a lot together, especially in the last year. When I saw that she had gone I closed the porch down, drank myself silly and went upstairs to flop on the bed.

By ten I was awake again. I set about picking up all the newspaper around the house and throwing it away. I wrapped her body in paper towels.

Once the hole had been dug, I sat on the garden bench for some time, holding her and weeping like the hypocritical moron that I am. It seemed to me that there was some warmth still coming off of her body; but it was just warmth from my own hands.

Goodbye, Pooky. Goodbye, Mom.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Time Between

I used to value my Alone Time, and cling to it like a zealot, because I had so little of it, and needed so much more.

Now -- apart from work -- alone time is all that I have, and Filling Up the Empty Places has become my overwhelming task and concern. I'm throwing everything at it that I possibly can, but nothing seems to stick.  Or, in some cases, it works for a short while and then it wears off, like alcohol, leaving me feeling like another option has been taken off the table. It's probably why I'm afraid to start any serious work: I'll find out that I can't do it anymore, and be left even worse off than before.

In my current state of mind even this blog seems little more than so much masturbation.

I was in a dark mood already because of all those things and because I've been ill for over a week now, three and a half days in bed, two of them too weak even to hold a book up. Now comes the news that it looks as if I will get enough money from the estate -- and soon -- to pay off my house entirely, and my father is urging me to do just that. I don't want to. That money is all I'll ever have, and it seems prudent to stay liquid. What if I got laid off? My own meager "savings" would last more than a few months.

Most people would be cheered by news like that. I don't even want to think about that money. It just depresses me to no end. Knowing where it came from, and knowing what I do about the financial desperation my mother was experiencing in the last months of her life.

A year ago today I was preparing for the biggest upheaval in my life. Now that the dust has settled, I'm standing in an emotionally vapid state and wondering what the hell is next.

I shouldn't even be sitting here typing this crap. It doesn't help. Guess I'd better go back to bed. Reading about Pauline Kael doesn't accomplish anything, but at least it doesn't depress me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yowza! Yowza! Yowza! -- You're On Your Own!

Note, if you can when reproduced at this size, the "M" rating.
Remind me to blather at you about that later.

When They Shoot Horses, Don't They? was released in 1969, I was ten and a half years old and my folks judged that I was mature enough to to bring along to a showing. For my part, I did some reading and research ahead of time (a habit to this very day) and decided that this was going to be much too distressing for me. My parents capitulated, and while they went to see Jane Fonda and Co. put through their paces by the decidedly evil Gig Young, I went to a showing of The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. It was the right choice at the time.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is a distressing movie to watch even today. If anything, with our economy in the tank and people willing to whore themselves on endurance game shows like Survivor (in many ways the modern-day equivalent of the dance marathon), the picture has perhaps gained some bite since its original release.

At the heart of the picture is a fairly heavy-handed metaphor of "Life as a Dance Marathon." But it works, because it's the same metaphor that Gig Young is selling his paying audience, the same metaphor that Mark Burnett and Jeff Probst hawk to their TV viewers to this very day. Young shouts the most outrageous made-up stories into his microphone, fictions designed to illustrate that the American Way is to Persevere and Soldier Ahead through Tough Times, while the dancers on the floor below him below him suffer unimaginable tortures of the body and spirit.

They're doing it because it's Depression Era America, and these folks have reached the point of desperation. The Dance Marathon offers "seven meals a day" (but you must keep moving while you eat) and a roof over their heads, and whatever pennies the paying audience are willing to throw. The prize for the last couple standing is $1,500 -- except that there's an ugly secret about that prize.

At first, the audience is made up of lower-middle class hangers-on, who, as Young puts it, "come to see someone who is more miserable than they are." But as the marathon winds on and on for three, four, five weeks and the body count begins to pile up, the stadium begins to fill with more and more affluent types: the marathon becomes a Roman Coliseum with the unemployed and desperate breaking their bodies and their spirits as entertainment for a disenchanted Ruling Class.

There is something of the disaster movie in the things that the dancers are made to endure. Chief among these is "The Derby," a torturing ten-minute race designed to eliminate three couples and exhaust the rest. All are, more or less literally, struggling to stay alive in a world that wants nothing to do with them.

Gloria, the Jane Fonda character, is so jaded and tired of life even before she enters the marathon that every blow she suffers at Young's hands is another notch cut out from the angry, withered nutshell that is all that remains of her spirit. On the other hand, the Michael Sarrazin character seems only to be guilty of naiveté, and of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. By the end of the film, his will is as broken as Gloria's, and the favor that he grants her is one that he understands so completely that he seems only mystified that others don't understand it as well. "They shoot horses, don't they?"

Gig Young's villainy in this picture cannot be understated, and it's not a villainy of the abstract, comic-book type. His is the world of the down-and-outer who has found a solution to his predicament by capitalizing on the suffering of others; to him, everything that he does is justified as benefitting "the show," which of course goes on and on and on, like the road in the song Bilbo Baggins sings in The Lord of the Rings. On, that is, until your bones are broken and your heart gives out and there's no one to drag you along any farther. When Young steals Suzannah York's gown and make-up (not, by far, the worst thing that he does), he doesn't perceive it as a crime against a person: she was spoiling the show by looking too glamorous.

I find They Shoot Horses, Don't They? to be an almost mesmerizing film. Even when you know where it's headed, you can't take your eyes off it. Young is right: the suffering of others can serve as a balm for one's own suffering, and their struggle compels us to carry on the struggle as well. Unless, like Gloria, you've just truly taken as much punishment, more punishment than your body and soul can bear.

It's one of my favorites, easily earning a place somewhere in my top fifty. But I am glad that I waited until I was "grown up" to see it. At ten and a half years old, I wasn't ready to learn that sometimes, all your struggles are for nothing.


Like most everything else in our culture, the MPAA Ratings System has been both dumbed-down and corrupted from its original usage, and Stephen Spielberg is to blame.

It was Jaws and the reaction of parents who could not take responsibility for their own choice to bring Junior and Sis along for the ride that challenged and changed the rating system, and for no good reason at all.

I felt, and still feel, that the original ratings made perfect sense, much more sense than the current one, and that only morons could have misunderstood what it all meant.

I was ten and a half years old, and I understood it.

G meant "General Audiences." Now, this did not mean that the movie in question was necessarily a vapid children's entertainment about fairies and teddy bears. True Grit was rated G in its first release, and the film features a mass hanging, a graphic stabbing and more, things that would never make the cut into a G movie of today. But True Grit had a redemptive quality and was morally uncomplicated. It was understood then that children are not fools, and although some of the material may be disturbing, there was clear Good and Evil in the Universe, and Rooster Cogburn, although a drunk, was there to take up your cause.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is a far less overtly violent movie than True Grit, but it recieved, and rightly so, the "M" rating -- For Mature Audiences Only. There is complicated sex, a brief hint of nudity, and especially moral ambiguity.

M rated movies were a good deal rougher than the PG rated movies of today. House of Dark Shadows was an M rated movie, and it was very rough indeed: in the climax, Barnabus has an arrow thrust through his chest from behind, and his entire abdomen erupts and bursts into the camera. In effect, the PG rating has become the G rating, and the G rating simply means "something so insipid that no one in their right mind would want to sit through it."

R meant Restricted, and Restricted did NOT mean, in those days, "you can sneak in if you wear lifts." The R rating, in those days, carried weight. But over the years, that R rating became so fuzzily defined that it essentially failed to have any meaning at all.

The Verdict, starring paul Newman, went out under an R rating. It was, clearly, a PG movie. Except that in one single scene, Jack Warden came on and said, "Fuck, fuck, fuck. . . fuckety fuck, fuck fuck fuck."

On the other hand, an egregious early example of the torture porn genre called Mark of the Devil, (featuring Herbert Lom in a stage of his career where he must have been starving and desperate for work) in which, among other acts of unimaginable cruelty, an attractive young woman has her tongue ripped out with a set of tongs, also went out as an R picture.

The R rating has, for some decades now, been the least trustworthy and most misleading rating in the whole system. I've seen pictures where I literally had to ask myself why it got an R. And I'm aware of pictures, unfortunately, that should have gone out with an X or at least an NC-17 (whatever that means), but didn't. Lion's Gate in particular is a studio that must be flooding the MPAA with bribes.

Where is all this going? Nowhere, I guess, unless it's a convoluted way of saying that the ratings system is deeply flawed, and more so now than it was when it started. Like so many "self-policing" attempts in all walks of life, it is not to be trusted, and the only person who can decide what's right for YOU to watch -- as I was capable of deciding even when I was ten and a half years old -- is YOU.

-- Freder.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Wacky World of Web Series. . .

Until quite recently, I thought that "web series" were all talking heads and computer geeks. It wasn't until I learned that my friend DP is acting in one that I realized they were turning into much more, and not until last week that I came to understand how polished and elaborate they can be.

My first exposure to this was Vexika, a sort of SF-ninja series made by a married couple in Arizona, who have erected a sizable green screen in a corner of their living room and shoot against it on weekends. Drawn to their site by a Facebook ad, I was impressed with what amateur filmmakers can accomplish on a technical level with consumer-level computers, cameras and software.

Unfortunately, Vexika is not just bad, it's embarrassing. The only thing that it's "about" is posing and self-regard. Miranda Stewart, the star of the piece, is certainly photogenic (her husband Dan particularly likes to linger his camera over her black-vinyl-clad behind), but she has only one expression: the one you see above. She's given virtually no dialogue, and her character is beyond that of a cypher: Vexika is nothing more than a body to swing a ninja sword around and engage in some (very lame) ninja moves. Dan Stewart, who is the "writer" and director, also plays all the other roles: an army of clones sent out to kill Vexika (they have even lamer ninja moves than she does). That's it, that's the whole plot. The first story is aptly but unimaginatively called "Get Her," and in five minute installments Vexika smiles like that and dispatches them, singly or in groups. There's a lot of standing around. There are some lame attempts at comedy, and even lamer attempts at pathos (the army of clones who must "get her" also, apparently, love her, and one of their number is unhappy with this situation).

How they can love her is not made clear. There is literally nothing there to have any feelings about whatsoever. Really, the only question of note that Vexica raises is, how does a chubby computer nerd manage to get hitched up with a "smoking hot babe" like that?

Somewhat better is Spellfury, a sword-and-sorcery fantasy about a girl elf with a magic sword and an evil wizard who wants to steal it. True, the acting is every bit as lousy as that on Vexika, but Spellfury is essentially a comedy, and you do sense that the young people involved are having fun with it. There's also a significantly larger cast (which deflates the narcissism of Vexika), and a clever blending of live actors and puppets. I can't say that I'm waiting for the next episode at all, let alone with baited breath, but I did find the one episode that I watched (number 11, available here at YouTube) amusing and insouciant for an amateur production.

Of the three web series that I checked out, best of breed was easily Western X. It has the highest production values (much of it is shot in a real western ghost town, the costuming is outstanding, and much of the cast seem really to be grizzled old Rough Riders) and the closest thing to a compelling storyline. What gives it away as an amateur production are the too-long Pregnant Pauses where nothing much is happening and nothing is being said, just cowboys and frontier women staring at each other ominously from across the dusty trail. You can check it out here.

The message that I came away with is not that any of these shows will change the entertainment industry, but that the entertainment industry has changed and is changing and that, as blogging made it possible for any idiot with a keyboard (including yrs. trly.) to become a pundit and a critic, any idiot with access to a camera and a computer and editing software can create their own series or movie and easily make it available to the larger world. Episode 11 of Spellfury has had over 39,000 views at YouTube, not an insignificant number for an outsider production.

 If I had had this kind of tech available to me when I was a Young Whippersnapper, I would have been all over it, believe you me. Come to think of it, I have this kind of tech available to me now. And even though I may be an Olde Whippersnapper, I never really grew up inside. Hmmmmm. . .

-- Freder.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In Modern Parlance. . .

. . . The Gay Sisters sounds like incest porn.  Things were different in 1942, though, and that year's The Gay Sisters is a bit of Soapy Froth. On the one hand, I hate to see the great Barbara Stanwyck wasted in piffle like this; on the other, I'd watch Barbara Stanwyck in any piffle she chooses to participate in. She's stunning and mesmerizing and everything that she appears in rises to her level.

Trust me, there's nothing gay (in any sense of the word) about these sisters -- and that poster is just about the most ridiculous misrepresentation of a movie, ever! None of them are happy -- which, now that I type it, I suppose is the studio's justification for the appalling, unrealistic and deeply unsatisfying Hollywood Ending that its viewers are subjected to before the final fade-out.

I suppose that I'm taking the picture too seriously -- it really is just a Soap Opera at heart. Unfortunately, Stanwyck's presence and the way she commands your attention does lull one into the fantasy that The Gay Sisters is something more. That -- and some of the themes connected with me in Irritating Ways.

In the opening scenes, the Gaylord Sisters lose their mother and father one after the other in Deeply Romantic ways -- but not before the father has the chance to say goodbye to his two weeping children and the third, "sterner stuff" daughter who will grow up to be Stanwyck. I was weeping, too, and hating myself for it, because this bit of childhood trauma is nothing more or less than Cheap Manipulation. . . and I felt the sap for having my buttons so easily pushed.

Then again I was in a vulnerable mood today, and this is a story about a family that loses everything in a bitter legal dispute: everything, including the family home, and ultimately their pride.

George Brent plays the cool SOB who's responsible for bringing down all this ruin, and he does it well.  But of course it turns out that he and Stanwyck have a past, and that his assault on this particular family has ulterior (and highly incredible) motives.

In the end, it turns out that Stanwyck didn't mean anything she said, didn't have any of the honor that she claimed, made the whole family suffer for twenty-eight years for a principle she didn't believe in.

There's a marvelous scene (and song) in the stage play of My Fair Lady in which the Rex Harrison character finally comes to grips with his attraction to Eliza Dolittle, and with the knowledge that he's apparently lost her to to an insipid young fop. The song is called "Accustomed to Her Face," and it ends with a shout and a moan. The shout is connected to a thought early in the piece: "Marry Freddy. What an infantile thing. What a heartless, brainless, wicked thing to do!"

That's how I feel about the ending of The Gay Sisters. Perhaps I'm a bit too sensitive to the issue of losing your parents and then having your home ripped out from underneath you, having been through it myself (the anniversary is coming right up), but I was Really Pulling for Stanwyck and no other ending than having her prevail would have satisfied me. Instead, she Whores herself to the Son of a Bitch who has been making her life miserable.

My sense is that in 1942, the hopes and beliefs of a woman were still considered secondary to the hopes and beliefs of a man. And so the Stanwyck character is made to see that she's Just Being Stubborn, and everything that her life has stood for up until that moment is tossed away so that she can fall into the embrace of her enemy (and not coincidentally, a soft romantic fade out).



Am I the only one in the room who saw the "seduction" that led to the birth of a son as a rape scene?

It might have worked if Brent had any credibility at all as a man who, suddenly and unexpectedly, Actually Cares. But he's been so successful at playing the prick right up to and including the closing scenes, that I defy anyone to Buy It.

My friend BC and I share an expression that we both use fairly often, but which he invented:

"If it were a book, you'd throw it across the room!"

-- Freder.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"I've lost my Leopard, rilly I have. . ."

C'est magnifique posteur Fracais, non?

Bringing Up Baby may be the goofiest thing I've ever seen. It's so far removed from Reality as to be almost surreal; it's a Romantic comedy as seen through the eyes of Rene Magritte. And then to have Howard Hawks's name on it? That alone approaches a unique level of Bizarre.

When I think of Howard Hawks, I think of Bogart in a very fair adaptation of The Big Sleep. I think of Joanne Dru taking an arrow through the shoulder in Red River and hardly batting an eye. In a Howard Hawks picture, I expect the women to be hard-boiled and the men to be ten times larger than life. Bringing Up Baby is a side of Howard Hawks that causes my jaw to drop crazily like a cartoon character's. . . but then, Bringing Up Baby really is a live-action cartoon, isn't it?

Katherine Hepburn certainly plays with Cary Grant here the way Bugs Bunny plays with Elmer Fudd. I have to confess that I found her motivation pretty slim: love at first sight is a common Hollywood convention, but this takes it to a ridiculous extreme: Kate seems to have Grant in her sights before they even meet! On the other hand, my friend Flick Chick is crazy enough about Cary Grant that I can definitely see her going to the lengths Hepburn does to reel him in, but then Flick Chick has had years to adore Grant from afar, whereas we're expected to believe that Hepburn falls the absolute nanosecond that this silly little professor-man comes looking for his golf ball.

Susan Vance is quite possibly the most annoying Romantic Lead ever, and I believe that only Hepburn could have made it work. So irritating and headstrong is Susan that she needed to be magnificent and charming as well, and Kate -- all hair, silk and teeth, all in motion, all the time, even when she is still -- is just the ticket. When she swings on the jail cell door near the end of the picture, it seems as if she's floating on air.

In Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, one of the best cartoons ever to come out of the Disney studio, Katherine Hepburn is beautifully caricatured as Little Bo Peep. It's a gag that runs through the whole cartoon: "I've lost my sheep. Rilly I have." The cartoon is funnier (and so is Bringing Up Baby) when you see just how perfectly the Disney artists captured her.

Grant knocks this one out of the park, too. I'm actually growing to like him better as a comic actor than as a serious one. Although terribly put upon by Hepburn, Grant has innumerable opportunities to get away from her. D'you think he's not really trying that hard?

Charlie Ruggles is just a bonus. He can make me laugh with just a stammer.

But the bottom line with this picture is there's not much you can say about it except that in all aspects it's done wonderfully well. "Screwball" just completely sums it up. It's nutty in every way. If you want your comedies to make a lick of sense, this is not the one for you. That's probably why it flopped in its first release: there's no bottom, no ground to stand on. It's Kate and Cary doing Harpo and Chico.

-- Freder.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Brian and me

My paternal cousin Brian has been dead for a long time. It was cancer that took him, back in the early '80s; when they cut him open after his death they found it eating away throughout most of his abdomen.

For more than a decade prior to his death, we were not close. But when I was a child and my family lived in Minnesota, all of my cousins factored heavily into life.

Brian was an outgoing and deeply friendly kid; he was also a full-blown Autistic. We didn't have that word back then. We called him "different." He was quite functional, but gangling and awkward, given to strange gestures and stranger modes of speech.

Whereas I was given to silence.

The home movies, my recently completed project that kept me out of depression for a time, in which Brian and I are occasionally seen together, make it clear to me that I was "developmentally delayed." In stark contrast to my sister, I am seen most often in stillness, or being dragged along by the hand. Even as late as eleven or twelve, my run is a clownish mess of flailing arms and legs.

But where Brian was more or less seriously impaired, I was "light enough to pass," if not to fit in with my peers.

That has been a life-long problem, and is probably the reason why I essentially dropped out of life for a while after high school, and why I remain a house-bound introvert to this day.

From the beginning I did not identify with people my own age and sought out the company of adults. When that was not possible, I was the kid who went off by himself to a quiet corner of the playground. My classmates exhausted me. I could not figure them out and quickly got tired of being ridiculed for my apparent shortcomings. "You're so queer!" became the phrase that was repeated to me most often in the sixth grade. At that time I had no idea what the word meant and when it was explained to me I was appalled. How could they think that of me? How could they say those things?

(It's funny, but now I'm acutely aware that I'm still only pretending to be an grown-up, and I tend to identify more closely with young people -- which is awkward because they see me as an adult and are surprised when I don't behave like one, just as I am unreasonably but genuinely surprised when these younger people don't share any of my cultural references. How can anyone never have heard of Pee Wee Herman?)

On the playground I preferred the company of girls because they were less dismissive of me and because I did not share the same interests as the boys, could not play any sport for the life of me, though I tried hard, and was ridiculed for that, as well. Always the last person to be picked for any team, always the one targeted in Dodgeball. I preferred reading and drawing. I preferred making up stories about the physical things that surrounded me, and because my mother was already in the antiques business, I was surrounded by a lot to interest.

After we moved to Maine and the families grew apart, my cousin Brian became an increasingly alien figure. There was an incident that occurred just as his hormones began to kick in.

Hormones are like Town Government Employees coming into your home without warning to turn your life upside down, saying, "Just doing our job, buddy!" This is rough on everyone, but for a full-blown autistic it must have been all the more puzzling and difficult. And so I have nothing but kindness and understanding when I type that he wrote my sister an inappropriate letter, asking for a picture that showed off her chest.

This should have been handled with understanding and allowed to drop. Brian lived half a continent away and could be of no trouble; when no response was coming he would most likely forget it all and move on. But my sister, being the hyperactive and explosive personality that she is, was outraged and demanded an apology. Phone calls were made.

I went to my room and cocooned myself in there; a lifelong habit that is only now changing, and now only because the whole house is my room.

Like Brian, I have suffered from inappropriate and unrequited affections. Fortunately not with family members! But in my teens all the way through to my late twenties, I would meet women who seemed so natural and connected to the world, and so friendly, that I would throw myself at them as if they were my only hope in the world, in what must have been the most off-putting manner imaginable, on the one hand socially constricted and on the other over-eagar. The inevitable results would leave me in a state of crashing despair. I literally could not tell the difference between friendliness and interest, and did not know what I was doing wrong.

When I visited my Grandparents in Minnesota during my early high school years, Brian and his younger brother Dale took me golfing. We spent most of the day together. Brian had not changed at all. He was still the same cheerful, friendly, outgoing but painfully awkward person that he had been as a child; the only difference was that now his bedroom smelled of ripe teenager.

I went home and never saw him again. It was in the early days of the comics, collectibles and antiques shop called Duck Soup that I shared with my mother, that word came of Brian's illness, along with requests for letters, requests for contact, requests for memories. I sent a copy of MAD magazine, one from the sixties that parodied the old Batman TV show, because back in the day, Brian and Dale and all that branch of the family used to come over to our house of a Wednesday or Thursday night to watch Batman on our color TV. Color TV was not Universal then. I thought it might trigger a smile, or a memory.

Then he was gone; and his death was, like his life, so far removed that it meant little to me other than a milestone, just the first of many more to come. This was long before I came to understand that Brian and I had more in common than anyone realized.

-- Freder.
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